Spitzer, Now Isolated, Finds He Has Few Defenders
With pressure mounting to resign Tuesday over a call-girl scandal, Gov. Eliot Spitzer found himself with few friends and lots of powerful enemies, many of whom regard him as a sanctimonious bully who got what was coming to him.
Republicans began talking impeachment, and few if any fellow Democrats were willing to defend him. A death watch of sorts began at the state Capitol, where whispers of "What have you heard?" echoed through nearly every hallway of the ornate, 109-year-old building.
While Spitzer and his family remained secluded in their Fifth Avenue apartment, insiders said the governor was still trying to decide how to proceed. Options included quitting as early as Tuesday afternoon, or waiting to use resignation as a bargaining chip with federal prosecutors to avoid indictment.
Democrats privately floated another option, telling The Associated Press that Spitzer was considering what was almost unthinkable immediately after Monday's bombshell apology: hanging on.
"If the public is fine, he'll stay," said a Democrat who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Still, Spitzer's enemies were emboldened, and some of his friends went from shock to outrage.
"Particularly because of the reform platform on which he was elected governor, his ability to govern the state of New York and execute his duties as governor have been irreparably damaged," said Citizen Action, a good-government group that supported the crusading attorney general for governor in 2006 and provided critical support in his effort to reform Albany. "It is our strong belief that it is now impossible for him to fulfill his responsibilities as governor. Accordingly, Citizens Union urges him to resign as governor."
The scandal erupted Monday, when allegations surfaced that Spitzer, a 48-year-old married man with three teenage daughters, spent thousands of dollars on a call girl named Kristen at a Washington hotel on the night before Valentine's Day. The case started when banks noticed frequent cash transfers from several accounts and filed suspicious activity reports with the Internal Revenue Service, a law enforcement official told the AP. The accounts were
traced back to Spitzer, prompting public corruption investigators to open an inquiry.
The investigation also found evidence that Spitzer was a repeat customer with the Emperors Club VIP, a high-end call-girl service, the official said. In court papers, Spitzer was identified only as "Client 9," according to another law enforcement official who also spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still going on.
The governor has not been charged, and prosecutors would not comment on the case. A Spitzer spokesman said the governor has retained a large New York City law firm.
In Albany, Democratic Lt. Gov. David Paterson, who would become governor if Spitzer resigned, was talking to legislative leaders about a possible transition.
On Wall Street, where Spitzer built his reputation as a crusader against shady practices and overly generous compensation, cheers and laughter erupted Monday from the trading floor when news broke of his potential ruin.
Many in the financial industry had long complained that the man known as "Mr. Clean" and the "Sheriff of Wall Street" was abusive and insulting, that he went after them with holier-than-thou zeal, and that he was just trying to make headlines and advance his political career.
"The irony and the hypocrisy is almost too good to be true," said Bryn Dolan, a fundraiser who works with many Wall Street employees. "If he had any shame, he would've already resigned."
(See the comments of one former Spitzer opponent, Ken Langone, here).
Reporters, government workers and the public milled around the state Capitol on Tuesday, waiting for any developments. News vans lined up around the building, and camera operators sat next to their tripods on the front lawn waiting for something to happen.
The official Democratic line was to give Spitzer time to decide.
"On every level--the human level, the governmental level--this is not the time to speculate and guess at the outcome," said Democratic state Assemblyman Richard Brodsky. "There's too much at stake."
But privately, several Democrats in the Legislature and in the administration said resignation appeared inevitable.
"He's weighing the rest of his life," one Democratic official said sadly.
Meanwhile, the Republicans Spitzer fought with for a year struck harder.
"The trust of the people has been violated and we've become a laughingstock," said state Sen. Martin Golden, a Brooklyn Republican. "It has the potential ability of throwing us into a major crisis, but we won't let it happen."
Assembly Republican leader James Tedisco warned that if Spitzer did not resign within 48 hours, he would call for impeachment. But any impeachment would face a difficult road in the Democrat-controlled Assembly, where articles impeachment would require a majority vote to go to a trial. A trial would be decided by a combined vote of the full Senate, which has a slim GOP majority, and the Court of Appeals.
Tedisco was an early target of Spitzer's abrasive and uncompromising style in Albany. In a private call, an angry Spitzer once described himself to Tedisco as a "steamroller"--he attached a profanity for emphasis--and warned: "I'll roll over you and anybody else."
There were times, too, when Spitzer visited individual legislative districts to impugn by name lawmakers who defied him, a breach of etiquette even by New York's bare-knuckle standards. It was a legislative version of the name-calling he used against Wall Street targets for years as attorney general.
So when the news about Spitzer's disgrace hit Wall Street, many were delighted to see him get his comeuppance.
"It's great that he's going to take a fall for what is essentially a minor thing," NYSE employee Greg Longworth said outside Harry's at Hanover Square, a favorite Wall Street drinking hole. "He was such a stuffed shirt, and it turns out he was doing the same thing."